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The medico-legal process after a Cot Death
Reduce the risks
Facts about Cot Death



Information and Advice


Cot Death, more correctly known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was defined in 1969 as “the sudden death of a infant or young child which is unexpected by history and in which a thorough post mortem examination fails to demonstrate an adequate cause for death”.

SIDS is now rarely used on death certificates in Scotland. Terms such as “Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy” and “Unascertained” are now much more likely to be used.


Between 40 and 50 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly each year. A cause for the death will be found in around 20% of cases. The rest will remain unexplained.

The current rate of 1 Cot Death for every 1,600 livebirths is much lower than 10-15 years ago. The graph below shows the dramatic decrease which was almost certainly the result of advice to parents not to put their babies on their tummies to sleep.


The medico-legal process following a Cot Death

In Scotland the sudden, unexpected death of an infant must be reported to the Procurator Fiscal. It is the responsibility of the Procurator Fiscal to exclude any possibility of criminality. He/she will instruct the police to carry out an investigation of the circumstances. This will include an event scene examination and interviews with the bereaved parents and anyone else who was in the house at the time of death. The Procurator Fiscal will also require a pathologist to carry out a post mortem examination.

Following the post mortem examination the pathologist will issue a death certificate which will either give a definite cause of death (if one has been identified) or a diagnosis such as “sudden unexpected death in infancy” or “unascertained”. During the post mortem examination the pathologist will have taken samples of tissue and blood. When the results of tests on these samples are available a cause of death may be revealed in a small number of cases. In others, a possible contributory factor to death may have been established although this does not adequately explain the death. In the majority of cases, there is no explanation at all for the death.

Facts about Cot Death

This information may also be downloaded (904KB)

The Scottish Cot Death Trust, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill,
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